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NSF’s New One-Proposal Cap Sparks Controversy

70 scientists have signed onto a letter asking the National Science Foundation to reconsider a new policy announced last month, which states that researchers can only submit one proposal a year as a principal investigator (PI) or co-PI.

The one-proposal cap only applies to the biology directorate’s three core tracks, excluding several other NSF programs from which many biologists receive support. The change in the grant proposal policies also helps to keep staff and reviewers from being overwhelmed by the ever rising number of submissions.

“The new limit is intended to reduce the number of rejected proposals resubmitted without major changes,” says Alan Tessier, the biology directorate’s deputy assistant director. “NSF would like scientists to collaborate at a deeper level than just “carving up the science” and listing each other on the grant proposal’s cover sheet,” says Tessier.

Biologists complain that this new policy was adopted without community input, and that this decision will ultimately slow the progress of biological research.

“It’s a terrible idea,” says Heather Eisthen, an integrative biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “If you’re an early career scientist, desperate for funding, you’re not going to submit risky, collaborative projects that might be rejected. You’re going to focus on your own career and submit projects that are safe bets.”

Joanne Tornow, acting head of the biology directorate, says NSF is “sympathetic to the concerns the community is voicing,” and will continue to monitor and adjust the policy based on the volume and nature of the proposals coming in. “We’ve got the same goals and values,” Tornow says. “We want to offer as many opportunities for collaboration on important, cutting-edge work as we can.”

Learn more about the reactions to the policy changes here.